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Denver City Council Passes Controversial Group Living Amendment

DENVER (CBS4) - The Denver City Council has voted 11-2 to pass the controversial 200-page group living text amendment proposal. This, following a more than seven-hour meeting, in which at least 150 Denver residents spoke about their impassioned feelings on the proposal, some in favor and some against.

Council members Ortega, Black, Kashmann, Sandoval, Hinds, Clark, Gilmore, Herndon, CdeBaca, Kneich, and Torrres voted in favor, and council members Sawyer and Flynn voted against.

The text amendment will allow five unrelated adults to live together, instead of two, among several other changes.

On Tuesday, Jack Teter and Kyle Huelsman, who live in an 8-bedroom home with their spouses, said they were happy about the vote but wish council didn't amend the limit down to 5 adults. Teeter said the group adjusts each person's mortgage payments depending on income, and has even changed payment amounts more when roommates were out of work.

"In being able to spread risk in real estate in general, you make it more affordable and accessible for folks, and if something bad comes up, you have a community to support you. You're not just out on your own," Teter said.

The text amendment would also allow residential care facilities in more areas, including community corrections facilities - or halfway houses - in more neighborhoods than is currently allowed.

According to a spokesperson with the city, the amendment also "adjusts rules for residential care facilities so they are regulated by the number of people they serve, rather than by the type of service they offer."

"It also expands the land area available for community corrections from about 3,210 acres primarily in industrial areas and downtown to about 19,000 acres throughout the city in commercial and mixed-use areas," the spokesperson said in an early-morning press release.

The amendment has been three years in the making, and underwent several changes following negative community feedback in the fall.

For example, while halfway houses will be allowed in more neighborhoods, they will not be allowed in single unit, two unit, and row house zone districts, as was previously proposed.

Some people who spoke at Monday night's meeting felt those changes "watered down" the proposal.

"You butchered it," Denver resident Kevin Matthews told city council during the speaker portion of the meeting.

Still, many residents encouraged city council to vote "yes" on the proposal, some calling it a "good start," saying the previous zoning code was "racist" and "classist," and the new changes will allow for more equitable, affordable housing.

"In a year when renters across the city are facing eviction at a scale that none of us have seen in our lifetimes – and the worst economic contraction in history -- group living provides an incredible opportunity for not only affordable housing, but for stable housing," said Teter, who spoke at the meeting.

"Denver is really far behind most cities when it comes to common sense group living policies," said Denver resident Mary Codd. "I staunchly believe it's not the role of government to define what family is."

However, many other residents voiced opposition to the amendment, saying the changes would cause neighborhoods to be more overcrowded and dangerous, and could lower property values.

"Please don't make our communities and our children the losers of your solution," said Kristin MacArthur, a Denver resident and teacher who spoke at Monday night's meeting.

Other residents mentioned the amendment would not affect all Denver residents, because of an outdated Chapter 59 exemption in zoning rules. Read more about the Chapter 59 issue here.

City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer also questioned the city's senior planner - Andrew Webb - about the Chapter 59 issue. Webb said the city will work to remedy those issues in the future.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Community Planning and Development said work on the amendment is expected to take a few weeks, and after that council will vote on it. It would only extend the household definition citywide, and would not carry over the residential care changes.

Resident Tonia Wilson argued the city should solve the Chapter 59 zoning codes first, before passing the amendment. She also said the city should consider only passing one issue at a time, rather than bundling each issue together into one larger amendment.

"Now is not the right time to be pushing this through. There are so many distractions keeping Denverites from really realizing what was in there -there's a pandemic, people are working from home," Wilson told CBS4.

Councilman Kevin Flynn said that concerned him, as well. He said there were parts of the proposal in which he disagrees, and other parts in which he is supportive. Councilman Paul Kashmann also said he thought the amendment should have been unbundled, as well.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore said at the end of the day the amendment will "get more people housed in the city of Denver."

Webb said the city has already begun updating its data systems to be able to monitor outcomes in the future years, at least four years post adoption, so city officials can monitor any unintended consequences of the amendment.

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